For partners Veberly Jubilo and Frederick Uyaan, the Young Farmers Challenge Fund (YFCF) Program of the Department of Agriculture has created a great impact on their lives as partners, community organizers, farmers, entrepreneurs, and young leaders.

Jubilo and Uyaan, the owner-managers of La Sierra Mushroom Farm located in Barangay Tallipugo, Balaoan, La Union, are among the Regional Level awardees of the Ilocos Region and National finalists of the YFCF conducted by the Department of Agriculture.

Doing something new and different

Prior to the pandemic, the couple experimented with growing mushrooms in their backyard. Seeing its potential as a good source of income, they decided to continue with their mushroom production. However, the lack of capital has constrained them to expand their mushroom business.

It was timely that the YFCF opened doors of opportunities for them. Hence, they took time to learn and understand the program, especially the preparation of the Business Model Concept. Their patience, determination, and will to succeed paid off when they were adjudged as the Provincial Level awardee among the five competitors in La Union.

“Sa kabutihang palad po, nanalo kami sa Provincial Level. At sa ‘di naming inaasahan, nakuha din po namin ang Regional Level. At ngayon, makikilaban din po pala kami sa National Level,” Jubilo said.

Being prepared academically is an advantage as both are graduates of Bachelor of Science in Agriculture. Jubilo majored in Crop Science, while Uyaan specialized in Animal Science. The couple’s training ground in mushroom production is extensive since Uyaan had his internship in Israel and learned more on mushroom production technologies.

As a start-up in their business, they raised about 500 growing bags using some of the locally found raw materials like rice bran, kusot, rice hay, banana leaves, and natural liquid fertilizer, while spawns are being sourced out from a private supplier.

Facing challenges head-on

Growing mushrooms is not that easy. From the time of gathering the needed materials, stocking them for one month, soaking and steaming for 6-8 hours, and then incubating for another one month, it takes them three months to prepare before their mushrooms could be harvested. To lower down their production cost, the couple uses natural liquid fertilizer through the use of various kinds of leaves soaked in water. Sourcing out of raw materials for the couple has never been a problem. Rice husk, kusot, and sawdust are abundant in the area and have been frequently ignored by the locals.

Pest management is also important in mushroom production. Jubilo advises putting liquid natural fertilizer during the composting period prior to hanging the growing bags to protect the products when they are ready to sprout.

Aside from their fresh production of mushrooms, the couple also engages in fruiting bags production which provides them ready cash when sold. However, Jubilo finds fresh mushroom products as more profitable than selling fruiting bags. “Kapag naibenta kasi as fruiting bags, cash na po siya kaagad, hindi na po maghihirap. Pero kapag magpapatubo ng fresh na mushroom, mas malaki ang kitaan,” she added.

Based on her computation, there is around 20 to 30 percent gain for every growing fruiting bag produced. A kilo of fruiting bag produces around 200 to 300 grams of fresh mushroom. This translates to a margin of Php 50 to Php 60 per fruiting bag when sold as fresh as compared to the Php 25 per fruiting bag sold alone.

Currently, the couple has a total of 1,500 fruiting bags maintained and hung in their growing house, where they harvest a maximum of 5 to 10 kilos of fresh mushrooms everyday and are being sold at Php 200 a kilo in the market and walk-in clients.

Planning for the future

With the increasing demand for mushrooms in Ilocos, both as fresh products and fruiting bags, the couple plans to upgrade the tools and equipment needed in their mushroom production. Using the additional financial grant as the Regional Level awardee of the YFCF, they plan to buy the octopus-type steamer with a capacity of 1,000 fruiting bags, which is way bigger than the 200-capacity steamer that they are using now.

They also plan to buy a charcoal evaporative wall for their mushroom production business. According to Jubilo, it will enhance the relative humidity of the place while lowering the temperature of the growing house.

The couple also do value-adding activities like making mushroom chicharon, dinakdakan, tempura, and other delightful recipes.

La Sierra’s mushroom products opened more opportunities to engage in wider market outlets especially with the conduct of ASPIRE, an annual trade and exposition activity of the DA Regional Field Office I – Agribusiness Marketing Assistance Division (AMAD).

Giving back the glory that they are reaping now, they unselfishly share their knowledge and skills in mushroom production as they were invited as resource speakers in various training and seminars conducted by the local government units. The couple is planning to have a “grow now, pay later” scheme project, where they will be giving mushroom fruiting bags to interested groups or individuals for livelihood. The beneficiaries shall pay back the couple when they will be earning from this livelihood.

Through the YFCF program, the couple was able to avail of a sustainable income and better opportunities. It also gave them the sense of pride and hope that farming business, when taken seriously, will provide a lasting and meaningful living.

In fact, Uyaan, who is currently working at the Department of Science and Technology, is now planning to resign to fully devote his time in managing the La Sierra Mushroom Farm with Jubilo, his partner in success. ###